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from issue no. 08 - 2006

The memory of the current monastic community of the Santi Quattro Coronati

Those fellow sisters of ours quiet in the storm

the monastic community of the Santi Quattro Coronati in Rome

«Worried rumours of a Second World War that is unfortunately at the doors and from which the most painful consequences are foreseen…». So we find written in the chronicles of our Augustinian monastic community of the Santi Quattro in Rome. We are in the year 1940. The war knocks forcefully at the doors of the convent also. And the nuns note: «Since the beginning of the war is felt to be near, we must think of preparing a secure place where we can seek shelter». And shortly afterwards: «at the sound of the siren, awoken by the lugubrious sound we all go to the shelter and in prayer await the all-clear… No one is tranquil anymore».
Sister Emilia Umeblo

Sister Emilia Umeblo

From that moment it is difficult to say what and how our fellow sisters went through in those terrible years of war here. What is recorded in our Memorial gives only a glimpse of what was lived within the convent in that grave time of trial: «We carry on with the anxiety brought us by the great war. Continuous frights because of night alarms. Lack of necessities». « Everything is lacking». The world was in flames, pain and violence were spreading and these women, as all of their brothers in that moment, bore the burden of a history much greater than them.
The nuns who lived those years are not with us anymore, but their stories still re-echo through these walls of ours. In their words we trace the possibility of a reading of history, that of great events, that passes through small experience, wholly personal, hidden and silent, that make the common experience of the men and women of that time even more authentic.
For us who live here today taking up the human and spiritual heritage of those who went before us, the fact that politicians, patriots, deserters perhaps and entire Jewish families with grandparents and children found refuge in our cloister is not a mystery. Our chronicles record names and surnames of the unexpected guests and before anything else record the order of the Holy Father Pius XII to open the doors of the cloister to them, to protect them, hide them, feed them, saving them from deportation and certain death.
In that period Sister Maria Rita Saporetti was Mother Prioress, a determined, intelligent woman of spirit, endowed with great faith and an engaging charm. Not only did she and the community not hold back from the delicate task that the Pope and the Church entrusted them with, but they succeeded in creating a climate of true welcome and kinship with all those who crossed the threshold of the cloister seeking refuge.
The little there was to eat was divided «performing miracles»! Men and women when it was necessary were dressed in religious habits, veiled and taken to the orchard as if they were real nuns going about their work. Some helped in altar service and in the sacristy. Many, due to the direct involvement of the enterprising Mother Rita, cousin of an employee in the City Hall, were provided with forged identity papers and new names for entire families.
The risk of being discovered was always very high and the fears became stronger when the news spread of the SS raid on the Benedictine convent of Saint Paul’s.
In an inner room of the convent we still tread today on a trapdoor that opens onto a narrow underground room; almost none of us take any notice of it anymore, but we know that that was the hiding place where the refugees were conducted in the case of a house search. When however two SS officials presented themselves at the outer door grille of the porter’s lodge, the determination of the mother and the nuns was not beaten down by their bullying arguments and the cloister was not violated. The fright was great and the nuns, whose greatest weapon, as we known, is prayer, proudly recounted that they had had the better and the joy and relief of all was great. That day they held a party.
Today we smile affectionately reading the rather curious list of what was consigned to the keeping of the nuns: cars, motorbikes, trucks, horses, cows, paper, bicycles…, furniture, linen…; everything was of value and everything was carefully hidden to protect these poor persecuted people from the pillaging of all their possessions by the Germans.
They were demanding years for all without doubt, the pain, the loss and the uncertainty about the future seemed to be the only elements of the daily life of the time.
And yet here, between these high walls, life for many regained its dignity; stories of faith re-found, of friendship, of brotherly closeness and solidarity interwove in the simplicity of sharing a life made up of silence and prayer in a communion that overcame all fear. These remain the finest memories.

The Augustinian monastic community
of the Santi Quattro Coronati in Rome

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